Authors: Day Keene
I stood near the edge and looked down. The drop was as sheer as I remembered it. Three hundred feet down the waves pounded against a confusion of jagged rocks.
I used the rag to wipe my fingerprints off the wheel. When I was certain the wheel was clean I pulled the stiffening body under it and bent his fingers around the wheel.
The fog was thicker now, a wall of gray between me and the lip of the cliff. I hoped I could see Corliss in time to jump. I made certain the car was in neutral. Then I released the emergency brake, turned on the ignition, and stepped on the accelerator.
The car darted forward. As the front wheels went over the edge the pan dropped down on the rock with a scream of tortured metal, teetering the car and springing the left rear door. The door swung forward like a flat pile driver, hitting me in the back as I jumped, slamming me down on the rock at the very lip of the cliff, my legs dangling in space, the big car beside me grinding desperately for life. On the edge of nothing.
There was a screaming in my ears. Hands clawed at me. I realized it was Corliss, tugging me back to safety as the Buick fell end over end, its headlights sweeping the sky as it plunged three hundred feet into jagged rock and white water.
I lay on the lip of the cliff, fighting for breath. Corliss lay a few feet away. In her struggle to keep me from going over the cliff, the low neckline of her dress had slipped down over one shoulder, half exposing her breast. As I watched, Corliss pulled the dress still farther down on her shoulder, and her upper lip curled away from her teeth. She hooked the fingers of my hand in her bodice.
“Take it off, Swede,” she pleaded...
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A HARD CASE CRIME BOOK
First Hard Case Crime edition: March 2005
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street
in collaboration with Winterfall LLC
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should know that it is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
Copyright © 1952 by Day Keene,
renewed 1980 by Irene E. Keene and Al James
Cover art copyright © 2005 by R. B. Farrell
and Gregory Manchess
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Print edition ISBN 978-0-85768-319-9
E-book ISBN 978-0-85768-383-0
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It was night. It was hot. The sea wasn’t far away. But I wasn’t on it, I was near it. I could hear rollers breaking on a beach. And between me and the sea the swish of fast moving traffic.
I was lying in blood or sweat. Liquid trickled down the cords of my neck and got snared in the hair on my chest. The air was as humid as it was hot and filled with the cloying fragrance of night-flowering nicotiana. It smelled like a funeral parlor.
I sat on the edge of the bed and fought a spell of dry heaves. I wished I had a drink. I wished I knew where I was. I knew that I was naked. The chances were that I was broke. A farm. That was a laugh. I’d be standing watch on the bridge of some wallowing freighter until they sewed me in canvas.
I felt through the dark for a lamp and found one. There was a table beside the bed. It was a small table. Just big enough for a bottle of rum, a glass, an ash tray, and some cigarettes. I drank from the neck of the bottle. Then I lit a cigarette and lay back, still drunk, wondering how big a fool a man could be.
I was in a tourist-court cottage of some kind. Outside the window, on the drive, a woman wanted to know if the cottages had inner-spring mattresses.
A girl’s voice said they had.
I wove to the window and looked out through the Venetian blind. I was in a first-class motel. The cottages were stone and fancy brick built in a U around a landscaped court. On the far side of the court I could see a lighted bar with a huge purple neon parrot perched on the slate roof. A half-dozen spotlighted palms fronted on U.S. 101. Across the highway was the sea. Up two cottages on the drive a pretty brunette in her early twenties was talking to a hatchet-faced dame standing beside a car with Iowa license plates. As I watched them the hatchet-faced one asked the brunette if the cottages were clean and how much it would be for one night for two adults and two children.
I didn’t like her looks. I didn’t like her voice. It rasped. I walked back to the bed and drank from the bottle again.
I hadn’t the least recollection of checking into the court. I forced myself to think.
The last of the cargo had gone over the side at ten o’clock. What day? I’d kissed Ginty, the company agent, and the line good-by a few minutes before noon. That had been in the company’s dock office in San Pedro. I was through with the sea. This time I meant it. I’d saved my pay for three years. I was going home. I was going to buy a farm, get married, and settle down.
Ginty had been in his cubbyhole, raising hell with someone over the phone. When I’d told Grace, his secretary, she’d stopped beating her typewriter. Shocked.
“You’re sick, Swede,” she’d accused.
“Of an old sickness, baby,” I’d told her. She’d wanted to know if I had picked the girl. I’d told her not yet.
Then Ginty had come out of his cubbyhole, swearing. “God Almighty. First that nitwit on the City of Boston gets stuck for eighteen thousand dollars’ demurrage. Now you happen to me. What do you mean, you’re quitting the sea?”
“Just what it sounds like,” I’d told him.
And gone away from there. Carrying my sea bag on my shoulder. My heels thudding on planking, then cement. Smelling new coiled hawsers, white-hot metal, tar. Hearing the snick of chipping hammers, the suck of the tide around the pilings, the watch on the S.S. Lautenbach striking eight bells. Twelve o’clock noon in San Pedro. Five
in Amsterdam. One
tomorrow in Hong Kong. Wondering if I
quit the sea, after eighteen years.
I’d checked into a small hotel. I’d bought a bus ticket for Hibbing, intending to leave San Pedro at midnight. I’d had a few drinks in a bar. I’d seen a movie and had dinner. I remembered a brunette and a redhead. Both of them on the prowl. Both of them run-of-the-Simmons. Typical overweight water-front dames with thick thighs and flabby running lights. I’d bought them a few drinks for kicks. Then what?
More of it was coming back now.
I’d moved on down the highway to a joint near Laguna Beach. Drinking heavier now. My money in my belt. Spending what I had in my pocket.
I remembered sounding off about some headline in the evening paper. Something about the body of some rich guy in Chicago being found when all of his friends had thought he’d been in Europe for three years. Back of the Iron Curtain. And now the F.B.I. was looking for his wife. Both the barman, a lad named Jerry, and myself had agreed we wouldn’t want the F.B.I. on our tails.
Then, sometime, there’d been a crap game. In the back room of the bar. With two avocado ranchers, some construction stiffs just back from Guam, and a greasy-haired Mexican pimp. I hadn’t been able to lose for winning. I’d had money in all my pockets. Three or four thousand dollars. On top of the twelve thousand in my belt.